interview by Vianne Venter
From Issue 18 (Feb 2012)
Where is home?
Home is a small town in Northern Poland.
Do you write full time?
Not yet. I work as an English Teacher, but still manage to fit a fair amount of writing in. I’m hoping to swing the balance over to the writing side in the next couple of years.
What inspired this story?
I was stuck for an hour or two in this really old train station in the middle of nowhere, and had the misfortune of needing to use the bathroom. They were in a little concrete hut. The smell was so bad I couldn’t breathe and I had to tip toe in and out because the place was flooded with murky liquid. When I went in, the attendant, who looked at least 80, was mopping up. Only he wasn’t doing much more than smudging the dirt around.
You had to pay to use the facilities, and after he took my money he sat down on a little wooden chair in the middle of it all and lit up a cigarette. I think he was watching me to check I didn’t get more than my money’s worth. The whole thing was straight out of a horror.
Anyway, the story came to me pretty much fully-formed on the train journey home, and I wrote the first draft that evening.
Do the story and its narrator belong to a larger universe? Tell us about it.
Yes. In December last year I finished the first draft of a novel in which he’s the main character and once again acts as the narrator. It’s called An Elderly Man Receives a Postcard, and is a kind of romance, but the sort without sexy vampires. There’s a bit of horror in there too, and Billy Bogroll pops up at one point. I’m just about to get working on the second draft.
There’s about six or seven short stories that I’ve got which all take place in this town, and some overlap each other. Most of them are horror, but I try to avoid gore (apart from Bogroll’s death and the human soup) and the supernatural. The town’s called ‘Fairwell’, as it happens.
Is this based on a real place? Is there a public urinal that we should circle in red on the map?
Not exactly. The idea came from the toilets I mentioned, but the ones in Billy Bogroll look vastly different.
The town where this and a few other stories take place is a composite of a lot of the places I’ve lived, and I guess the toilets are made up of all the bad bits of every public toilet I’ve ever used. (I’ve never spoken about public toilets so much in my life.)
Okay, grim question (we can’t help ourselves – the macabre fascination is just too much): the scene where they find the body in the bath – is that really what would happen to a body that had been in water for two weeks? And if so, how do you know?
My cousin was a fireman, and one day back when I was about 8 or 9 he was over at our house helping decorate the kitchen. I was fascinated by him, so I was sat there all day asking questions about his job. One thing he told me was that in the previous week he’d gone into a house where an old guy had suffered a heart attack in the bath. The victim had been soaking for a little over two weeks before anybody noticed something was up. It was my cousin and another fireman who tried to lift him out. That was a mistake on their part, because the guy just fell to bits like a well-cooked chicken. The image never left me. Twenty-one years later I found a way to get it out of my head.
On the same subject, a couple of months back I emailed an archaeologist friend of mine, Kim Brown, to ask what would happen to a corpse if it were wrapped in plastic and then buried for a year. It was for another story I’d been working on and I wanted to know what it would look like if somebody was to return to dig the body up. Her answer was short and clear: ‘Human soup’.
The ending of Billy Bogroll is pretty shocking. What happens next? Do you know?
Yes, I know. There are two stories which follow on from it. The first is a kind of interlude, about a couple of grave diggers preparing the plot for Bogroll’s funeral. As it happens, it’s called Human Soup. The third goes a little deeper into the toilets, as it were. The murders continue, and the focus remains on Wood Street. The toilets are now boarded up and out of use – for the public, anyway.
The character of the narrator is so clearly defined by his voice that I have to ask, is it based on someone you know?
He’s not based on anybody I know, which is a shame because I really like him. With this character it was the first experience I’d had where pretty much right away he took over the work. I just sat there and wrote what he told me to.
Are you working on anything right now?
Yes. Sometimes I go for months without any new ideas, and sometimes I go through periods where I write 3000 – 4000 words a day for a few weeks, or even months if I’m lucky. The last half of 2011 was one of the productive periods, which has left me with five short stories, the novel, and a script, which I plan on rewriting as a novel. They came one after the other without a break, so right now I’m returning to them for the second draft. I’m really looking forward to sharing these with an audience.
Where might we find more of your work?
Billy Bogroll is my first published work. There’ll be a few more short stories available in the coming year, perhaps even the novel if things work out. The best way to find out where and when for it all would be to follow me on twitter (@David_McCool) or visit www.davidmccool.com
Vianne Venter is a freelance writer and sub-editor for various South African publications. She served as story editor and sub for Something Wicked since its inception in 2005. She is also an artist and mother. She can communicate with inanimate objects, but only if they’re feeling chatty. In her spare time… oh, who are we kidding? What spare time?